ALTON — Emergency responders rescued two groups of hikers — one including 35 church members and children as young as 3-years-old — from Mount Major over the weekend when they became lost hiking down the mountain.
The first rescue began just before 8 p.m. Saturday when 911 dispatchers received a call that two people were lost.
Movva Rao Nageswara, 48, of Switzerland and his daughter, Raasida Gaugier, 19, of Medford, Mass., began their hike at 4:15 p.m.
They reached the top and started back down along the blue trail, reaching what they believed was a separate green-blazed trail leading down the mountain.
However, according to state Fish and Game officials, that was actually an old boundary line and the two eventually became lost and called 911.
Alton Fire-Rescue responded, along with Alton police, and eventually New Hampshire Fish and Game was asked to assist in the search.
Meanwhile, about 8:30 p.m., 911 dispatch received a second call about lost hikers.
A church group from Massachusetts, which included 16 children, began their climb about 4 p.m.
They reached the summit and took some time to enjoy the views and pick blueberries.
When they started their descent, however, they took the wrong trail – one leading away from the trailhead.
By the time they realized their mistake, they were several miles from the trailhead and it was getting dark. The group had no lights or provisions, so they decided to wait where they were and called 911.
Alton firefighters and police were already on scene and initiated a search for them.
The searches were made difficult because of a lack of cell phone coverage and intermittent radio reception, according to Fish and Game officials, who eventually were called in to assist.
The first officers arrived about 10:30 p.m.
Priority was given to the larger group, which was located just after 1:30 a.m. the next morning by an Alton firefighter.
The group was in high spirits, gathered around a fire singing songs.
Lights and provisions were gathered, and rescuers escorted them down the mountain to Alton Mountain Road, arriving there about 3:15 a.m.
The group was then transported back to the trailhead, where they were returned to their vehicles.
The Dartmouth-Hitchcock Advanced Response Team (DHART) helicopter was called in to search for the father and daughter, arriving at 3:45 a.m. and using both forward looking infrared (FLIR) cameras and searchlights.
Fish and Game conservation officers Ron Arsenault and Joe Canfield made voice contact with the two lost hikers about 4:30 a.m. and the helicopter was directed to that area, where Nageswara and Gaugier were found.
Both were assessed and guided to Alton Mountain Road, where transportation was waiting to drive them back to the trailhead, where their car was parked.
Fish and Game officials said both incidents could have been avoided with good planning and preparation.
They advise hikers to remember to pack appropriate lighting, clothing, equipment, food and water. They say it also is always good practice to hike with a partner in case of a medical emergency.
Hikes often take longer than anticipated and weather is unpredictable. Having appropriate gear aids in safety, they advise.
They also listed 10 items people should have with them for summer day hikes: a map, warm clothing, flashlight or headlamp, first aid kit/repair kit, whistle, compass, extra food and water, matches/fire starters, rain/wind jacket and pants, and a pocket knife.